Washington Post Arranges Win for Trump

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Before Tuesday, which was election night in Georgia’s sixth congressional district, I hadn’t been following the affair. I knew there would be a special election to replace a Republican congressman — Tom Price — whom President Trump had appointed to the cabinet. I also knew there was something funny about the Democratic candidate: the guy didn’t live in the district.

Jon Ossoff, a former Democratic staffer and “documentary film maker,” was typical of a class: a young, pretty-for-a-politician, supposedly charismatic person who was used as a target for big-money donations, most of them from Hollywood. A couple of times a year, one of these people — a Kennedy, some kind of activist, something — is revealed as the hope for America’s future, a leader whom the citizens of Anytown, USA, will certainly hail as a savior, if only he or she is well-funded. These people almost always lose. The locals just don’t like ’em.

But Ossoff pushed the envelope. He didn’t live in the district, and he didn’t bother to move there. His explanation was that his girlfriend didn’t live in the district. Oh, I see. His opponent, Karen Handel, a standard Republican, created what seems to have been the only memorable moment of her campaign by asking Ossoff, in a debate, whom he intended to vote for. Long silence from Ossoff, who couldn’t vote because he didn’t live in the district.

A couple of times a year, one of these people — a Kennedy, some kind of activist, something — is revealed as the hope for America’s future.

So that’s what I knew before Tuesday, June 20, when I saw the morning headline in the Washington Post: “Hard-fought House race in suburban Atlanta comes to an end as a referendum on Trump.” That headline was No. 1 all day in Google News Top Stories. It was run as if it were a locally generated headline by online newspapers across the world. And it got my interest. Polls were showing a 50-50 race in the sixth district of Georgia, but the guys at the Post hated Trump so badly that they couldn’t keep from betting all their chips on Blue. If, contrary to their fervent hope, the Republican happened to win — so would Trump!

That was enough for me; I decided to follow the returns as they came in. Clicking around, I discovered that the best sources for updates on the vote were the special live sites of the Atlantic and the New York Times. Both of them offered frequently refreshed totals, and the Times added maps of the district clearly showing where the votes for each party were coming from.

By contrast, CNN’s TV coverage was absurdly bad. A big panel of “experts” had been assembled, and they dealt out the usual inanities; but if you wanted the vote totals, you wouldn’t get them from CNN. Sample: At 9:16 Georgia time, CNN showed Ossoff ahead by 2%, with 156,000 votes counted, while the Atlantic showed Handel leading by 4.5%, with 184,000 counted. Oops. Guess we missed something. CNN’s vote analyst kept talking about votes still being awaited from places that according to the Times were mainly counted already, and must have been, to reach the current totals. At 9:53, when the Times’ vote analysts called the election for Handel, she was 10,000 votes ahead with only 30,000 remaining to be counted; but at 9:50 the vote total on CNN was still 20,000 behind, and at 9:54, 42,000 behind.

Ossoff didn’t live in the district, and he didn’t bother to move there. His explanation was that his girlfriend didn’t live there.

Fox News followed the vote only sporadically, perhaps because it wasn’t betting on the success of the Republican, but it had an absurd moment too. At the point where the vote total reached 120,000, Bret Baier, its most respected news anchor, was brought in for an interview, and he prattled on about how it was still early in the evening, only a fraction of the votes had been counted, who could tell?, etc. Dauntless researcher that I am, I had just been checking Wikipedia to determine the number of votes that are usually cast in the district. I easily and accurately predicted that 250,000 would be counted on June 20, but Baier had obviously not benefited from such research. It was clear from discussions on both Fox and CNN that their people hadn’t noticed the difference between the percentage of precints that had (fully) reported and the percentage of votes that had actually been counted.

Suddenly, at 10 PM, CNN’s vote total miraculously caught up, and it conceded what had been obvious for almost an hour before: the election had gone to the Republican. The Times election-returns site called the election at 9:53. Right to the end, however, the Times itselfkept the headline it had been running all day (also high up on Google Top Stories): “Georgia’s special election comes to a nail-biting finish.” And the Post kept its own headline, which, as I mentioned, was “Hard-fought House race in suburban Atlanta comes to an end as a referendum on Trump.”

One minute after CNN declared a victor, its irrepressibly behind-the-curve anchor Don Lemon opined, “The results were actually really close.” No, they weren’t. Except in safe districts, a vote of 52-48 is well within the “decisive” range in an American election.

A big panel of “experts” had been assembled, and they dealt out the usual inanities.

So Trump had won? I doubt it. Ossoff was the kind of gasbag who in his concession speech informed his followers: “As darkness has crept across this planet, [you] have provided a beacon of hope for people here in Georgia, for people across the country, and for people around the world.” Well, Ossoff may not have had any self-awareness, but he did have money — something between $20 and 40 million in funding, making this the most expensive congressional election in American history. Still, it wasn’t enough to cancel the fact that he didn’t even live in the district. As for Trump, he appears to have been popular in some parts of the district, but not in others. What a surprise.

So who knows? Unfortunately, either the Republican or the Democrat had to win.

Now, I know that the Washington Post sees things differently. But I’m still waiting for the headline that, according to its own logic, it should now be running — the headline that says, “Trump Wins Referendum.”




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Temporization Fugit

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As speculated in a June 7 feature here, President Trump today (June 16) announced, before a packed Miami crowd, a big change in US-Cuba policy. Though tourism to the island by American-based visitors has been technically banned by the embargo for quite some time, the 2014 Obama thaw fudged the issue in a variety of ways. President Trump has just dumped the fudge.

Pre-Obama’s thaw, regulations allowed Americans to visit Cuba under a variety of categories, including a people-to-people category — once their itinerary had been vetted by the Treasury Department. Under that category, only organized tour groups with a detailed itinerary were allowed to visit, with the intent of American folks and Cuban folks getting to know each other.

Compliance with the travel regulations in all categories will be strictly enforced.

On December 2014, President Obama eliminated the vetting process and allowed visitors to vet themselves on an honor system. At the same time, visitors returning from the island weren’t scrutinized, only questioned perfunctorily or not at all, about their compliance with US government regulations.

According to CNBC, “President Trump's policy restricts this form of travel to Cuba for individuals. Americans pursuing this type of travel would have to go in groups.” And their compliance with the travel regulations in all categories will be strictly enforced.

But the ultimate aim of the new policy is to restrict American tourist dollars going to businesses owned by the Cuban military's holding company, GAESA. "The profits from investment and tourism flow directly to the military. The regime takes the money and owns the industry. The outcome of the last administration's executive action has only been more repression and a move to crush the peaceful, democratic movement," Trump said in Miami on Friday.

The ultimate aim of the new policy is to restrict American tourist dollars going to businesses owned by the Cuban military's holding company.

According to Fox News, The policy calls on Americans traveling to Cuba to use "private businesses and services provided by the Cuban people, rather than businesses and services provided by GAESA." In effect, government hotels and resorts are out. US-based visitors must use private B&Bs and restaurants otherwise known as casas particulares and paladares.

The new policy does not go into effect until the new regulations are issued. We await the Cuban government’s reaction . . .




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Designer Reality

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Libertarians take great stock in the law of supply and demand. We understand that as long as something is in demand (as long as it isn’t a cure for cancer), there will generally be a supply of it. As it was with alcohol — the consumption of which only increased as a result of Prohibition — so, too, has it been with such drugs as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.

Less obvious, perhaps even to us, is the driving force behind the seemingly unstoppable popularity of alternative reality. Why do so many people, in this increasingly dystopian century, appear to be disconnected from objective truth? I don’t believe it can simply be explained as dissatisfaction with dystopia. There appears to be a general notion that people can believe whatever they want, and that reality is so subjective that it is mere clay, to be molded into whatever shape they choose.

In childhood, this is called imagination. If it persists into adulthood, it can become a form of mental illness. And instead of the remedy for dystopia, it appears to be the cause of it. Even a great many of those who never resort to alcohol or other drugs are addicted to designer reality.

Why do so many people, in this increasingly dystopian century, appear to be disconnected from objective truth?

Nor are libertarians immune to the addiction. I recently made the mistake of involving myself in one of those pointless Facebook flame wars I keep resolving to stay out of. It was on a libertarian page, and some cocky young gun posted yet another of those dreary challenges to feminine patience: “Why aren’t there more libertarian women?”

Of those who jumped into this discussion on the commentary thread, at least half were women. Real live, flesh-and-blood women were saying that we did exist, explaining how we had come to be libertarians, and suggesting how more of us could be encouraged to follow. Not that this appeared to teach the young gun, or his buddies, anything of value.

The answer to every one of our comments was some variation of the same: “Libertarianism is a logical philosophy, and men are logical, but women are not. Women are emotional and cannot be logical.” It was basically only a slightly more mature version of “Girls are stinky and have cooties” or of that old playground taunt: “Girls go to Jupiter to get more stupider. Boys go to Mars to get more candy bars.” I suppose the goal was to get us to be more emotional, so they could prove their point.

The word “logic” kept being repeated, as if it were a magical incantation. I saw zero evidence that these guys were using much of it, but they seemed to think if they kept asserting that they possessed superior logic, they needed to do no more. They had their designer reality, it gave them a terrific high, and they could imagine nothing better. The possibility that if they stopped telling us how illogical we were, and actually made the effort to explain the libertarian philosophy to us, they might meet with more widespread results, apparently never occurred to them.

It differs little from telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t really come down the chimney and eat those cookies.

Taking the chance that since they talked so much about logic, they might actually recognize it when they saw it, I attempted to reason with them. I pointed out that libertarians believe in the value of the individual. That one of their sages, Ayn Rand (herself — ahem — a woman), proclaimed that the individual was “the smallest minority” and stalwartly championed individual rights. And that they were speaking of women in a strictly collective sense — lumping us all together in a most unlibertarian way. They responded by casting Rand, and presumably any other woman who actually used logic, as a freak of nature who was at worst a horribly deformed woman, or at best some sort of an honorary man.

I have had this experience with nearly all the designer reality addicts I have ever engaged in conversation, no matter what pretty world they’ve chosen to inhabit. The cherished belief is doggedly repeated. Regardless of how good my argument happens to be, or how much evidence I present to support my position, it has no effect except to make them less logical and more — well — emotional. It differs little from telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t really come down the chimney and eat those cookies. They seem not so much indifferent to the truth as afraid of it.

The problem does not begin with the seemingly endless variety of designer reality available to us. Its origin can be traced to an insatiable demand. And the lure is powerful. This is not because all designer reality is utter bunk, but because in almost every version, there is at least a grain of truth.

Women can be emotional. I know that after that online conversation with those male libertarians, I wanted to scream my head off. But the political powers-that-be can take a grain of truth, add a little yeast, and expand it into a monstrous blob of dough. Many women turn their frustrations with men into protest-marching, silly-hat-wearing, man-hating lunacy. Today’s feminists have managed to make burning bras look, by comparison, charmingly quaint.

The big-government power structure functions as a duopoly, neither side of which is totally right or wrong. Most people choose the portions of truth they prefer and ignore the fact that the rest of what they’ve chosen is falsehood. The powers-that-be are basically telling us that we can have no more than part of the truth. That we are not entitled to the full truth. That we must be content with whichever lies we find the most pleasant — or at any rate, the least painful.

Today’s feminists have managed to make burning bras look, by comparison, charmingly quaint.

A temptation to accept partial truth is, it seems to me, the contemporary equivalent of taking the apple from the Serpent. It is the fruit the State dangles before us. And when we get cast out of the Garden, we waste our time arguing over trivialities — such as whether to blame Adam or Eve. Or maybe Adam and Steve.

Liberty enables us to pursue the full truth. We certainly don’t all agree on what that is, but each of us who values freedom should never settle for anything less. When we waste our time bickering over whose designer reality is prettier, we sell our freedom short. And, so divided, we invite the potentates of big government to conquer us.




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The Reusables

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My state, California, recently enacted a Bag Law. Intended to reduce the mighty environmental danger of plastic bags, it forbids drug stores and groceries from giving them out for free; they have to charge at least ten cents. This nanny-state microaggression was approved at last November’s general election, by the same voters who gave Hillary Clinton a majority in this state.

I have only anecdotal and speculative evidence about the effects of this law. I assume that workers who make plastic bags have been hurt, and that retailers have not been hurt, because they get to keep the ten cents. A slim majority of voters waked up in time to keep the money from going to some phony environmental fund.

Is saving a dime worth all that effort? Would it be worth ten cents to keep other customers from hating you?

As for the customers, a remarkable number of them are doing what the law wants them to do — bringing their own “reusable” bags.

Of course, some of them did that before the law was passed. These were environmental zanies, and their post-election conduct was predictable. They look smug, make self-congratulatory observations to the clerk, bother their kids with information about the purpose of “daddy’s bag,” etc. Such people were always few, and their numbers have not increased.

But there has been a substantial increase in the number of people who seem sane in other respects but are now showing up with reusables. Nowadays, I rarely hit the checkout line without being preceded by someone who spends five minutes, in close collaboration with the clerk, packing and repacking his week’s supply of groceries in a container made to hold an avocado, a piece of kale, and three back issues of Prevention magazine. Is saving a dime worth all that effort? Would it be worth ten cents to keep other customers from hating you? Would it be worth a dime to spare yourself the scientifically documented risk of disease entailed by the reuse of bags in public and the difficulty of washing them? By the way, wouldn’t it be worth ten cents, just to save yourself the trouble of washing a stupid shopping bag? Not to mention all the precious energy consumed in the process.

No rational defense of reusables is possible.

Now, on to me. I may not like the Bag Law — in fact, I detest it — but when I’m paying $50.00 for groceries, an increase of ten cents (twenty for double bagging) is insignificant. Compared to the hassle of dragging reusables around, it’s microscopic. I don’t mind carrying a wine bottle out in my own bare hands; in fact, It makes me feel all manly and edgy and lumpen. But I mind even less spending ten cents for a bag that will hold the wine, the frozen dinners, the two avocadoes, the tortilla soup, and that weird cheese from New Zealand, without any need for forethought or planning — a bag that will then be available the next day, to line the garbage can.

Of course, this is not a principled stand, but neither is it a principled stand to torture yourself with reusables — if you’re a normal person, that is. So why do normal persons do it?

The answer, according to a conservative-libertarian friend who also detests the law but who reluctantly admits to using reusable bags instead of paying the damned ten cents, is the following:

"I hate to waste money."

I’m puzzled by his reasoning. So you’d be wasting ten cents on a plastic bag, but you’re not wasting more than that on a reusable?

This is not a principled stand, but neither is it a principled stand to torture yourself with reusables — if you’re a normal person, that is.

 

Thinking about what he said, I discovered numerous parallel puzzlements. For example:

I never spend a minute balancing my checkbook, but I’ll spend an hour calling to protest a three-dollar overcharge on my credit card.

I’ve caught myself putting up with terrible service in store A, simply because I don’t want to waste five extra minutes to travel to store B.

We all know people who are grossly inconvenienced — even threatened in their lives or livelihood — by the machinations of X political party, but who will never, never vote for Y political party, because some proponent of Y once made some offensive remark, or because their Ma and Pa always voted for X.

These are all instances of being penny wise and pound foolish, and some serious research needs to be done on them. It might explain a lot about life on earth.

But my friend pointed out something else. He lives in what, according to South Park, is the citadel of “Smug” — the San Francisco Bay area. There, he says, he has observed the three types of bagholder whom I have observed, here in Southern California: the people (e.g., me) who just go ahead and pay the ten cents for a plastic bag, the people who reluctantly but willingly tote a reusable (that’s him), and the people who gleefully advertise their allegiance to reusables.

But he says that he frequently encounters a fourth type, which is worse, even, than the third: people for whom reusables became a fact of nature as soon as the Bag Law was passed, people who see them not as a hardship or a puzzlement or a moral victory but as an expression of the way things ever were and ever ought to be. For them, there is no problem — because they are the problem.




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The Great Butterfly Diaspora

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If your desk is anything like mine, every now and then news comes across it of the evil times that have befallen our beloved monarch butterflies. Their numbers are plummeting. Mexicans are chopping down the trees they roost in during the winter. Rampant de-prairieization is doing away with the milkweed they eat. Pesticides are dropping them like gassed French soldiers at Verdun. Soon we’ll be living in a drab, butterfly-free world.

Well, maybe, but a few weeks ago I was chatting with a buddy from Tonga and came to a different conclusion. My buddy and his wife had come to America to restock their supply of junk food, which they can afford to do because he used to work for an airline and they fly for free. Between resupply trips, his wife idles away her days munching Doritos and volunteering at a Tongalese butterfly sanctuary.

It isn’t just Tonga that has our monarchs. It’s Hawaii, too. And dozens of other Pacific Islands all the way right up to the Asian mainland and south to Australia.

A butterfly sanctuary in Tonga? I imagined glamorous, iridescent butterflies, wings dappling in the tropical sun.

“Not so,” my rather large buddy said. “They’re monarchs.”

Monarchs, I thought. A false cognate some local species got tagged with because they reminded a homesick 19th-century sailor of the butterflies in Nantucket.

“They’re not like American monarchs,” my buddy said. “They are American monarchs. Danaus plexippus. They’re the same species.” He seemed to know a lot about butterflies.

The speculation is that their caterpillars got to Tonga by weaving themselves up in cocoons and hitching rides on sailing ships back around the time of the Civil War, but nobody really knows.

It isn’t just Tonga that has our monarchs. It’s Hawaii, too. And dozens of other Pacific Islands all the way through Taiwan and Borneo and Sumatra right up to the Asian mainland and south to Australia. They’re not just in the Pacific, either. Monarchs have made it to the far side of the Indian Ocean where they’re happily flitting around Mauritius and Reunion Island over near Madagascar. Which puts them just about as far from America as you can get without a spaceship. In New Zealand there are so many monarch butterflies that the country has set up the New Zealand Monarch Trust to do heaven-knows-what with them. I’m guessing they want to protect their monarchs, this being New Zealand, but maybe not. To a New Zealander, a monarch butterfly might well be something they need protecting from, along the lines of the Australian possums chomping their way through the kiwis. Meanwhile the monarchs really are chomping through the milkweed.

Nobody even has an opinion as to how monarchs might have gotten to Morocco, but they’re there, too.

It turns out that the critically endangered milkweed stock that’s being driven to extinction by our unsustainable corporate farming practices over here is doing quite well in the Pacific, thank you very much. There are something like a hundred species of milkweed dotted out across the islands, species that include scary sounding, 30-foot trees made out of nothing but milkweed.

Nobody even has an opinion as to how monarchs might have gotten to Morocco, but they’re there, too. Every summer, while our less adventurous, homebound butterflies are flapping their way up from Mexico, their genetic brethren in Africa are flapping their way across the Straits of Gibraltar into Spain and Portugal. Some even flap their way to England. I cannot report on where the ones in the Azores and Canary Islands flap to because the news has not reached me.

Since monarchs already live in Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, and all three Guianas, that pretty much wraps it up for the continents, except Antarctica, but who knows? There probably aren’t enough butterfly scientists down there to have taken an adequate census. As invasive species go, monarch butterflies are top of the line.




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Sorting Out the Montana Election

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I ran across the following online commentary on Montana’s election for its sole member of the House of Representatives (May 25). It’s from a site called “Legal Insurrection”:

Rock’em Sock’em Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, best known for “body-slamming” and ego-shaming a reporter for The Guardian, defeated Democratic Candidate Rob Quist, best known as a nudist resort socialist Cowboy poet and singer. . . .

This is another *win* for Democrats because they showed up and did better than they expected, even though they lost.

I don’t know about this characterization of the two leading candidates. The day before the election, Gianforte had a minor physical confrontation with a reporter, which resulted in a suspiciously instantaneous summons from the local gendarmes; but that doesn’t make him a mythic figure who is “best known” for anything. Quist is neither a nudist nor a nudist resort but has performed at a nudist resort.

The picture that emerges is that of a state and a country becoming more and more acutely the way they are.

I do know that Gianforte got 50% of the vote, and Quist got 44%. You can make the comparison with Ryan Zinke, who left the Montana congressional seat to become Donald Trump’s secretary of the interior, and who received 56% in his two elections, while his Democratic opponents got 40% (2014) and 41% (2016). If you’re curious about the Libertarian candidates, their percentages were 4 (2014), 3 (2016) and 6 (2017).

Oh, and there’s one other series of numbers to consider. Voter turnout was 368,000 (2014), 508,000 (2016), and 377,000 (2017).

So what do you make of this?

Here’s what I make of it. Turnout is usually low in off-year elections (e.g., 2014, 2017). The Democrats may have picked up a couple of percentage points by turning out a few more of their people than in 2014. The Republicans may have lost a couple of percentage points to the Libertarian. That’s about enough to account for the mighty improvement in the Democrats’ percentage.

But wait! There’s more. While it’s entirely possible that the quoted description of the Republican candidate does not fairly represent his public image in Montana, where physical warfare is viewed more leniently than it is in Palo Alto, it’s pretty clear that the Democratic candidate was laughable by almost anybody’s standards. It didn’t take much party loyalty for Montana Republicans to vote for their guy. In fact, most of their votes had already been cast by mail, before the “slamming” took place. But it took a good deal of party loyalty for the Democrat to make his 44%. Party loyalty, or party outrage, gets voters to the polls. The Democrats are now the party of outrage, so I suppose they were a lot more motivated than the Republicans.

Quist is neither a nudist nor a nudist resort but has performed at a nudist resort.

Montana is a basically Republican state with a long progressive and populist history. Lately it has been infiltrated by a significant number of New Class people with money, and these are Hollywood Democrats. Bernie Sanders’ wealthy followers gave millions of dollars to the Montana Democrat, and presumably those dollars paid for massive get-out-the-vote endeavors. But even I confidently predicted that the Republican would win, “slamming” or no “slamming.” In Montana, as in many places in the country, populists and conservatives now vote the same, in opposition to progressives. In one sense of the word, a Montana “progressive” would be the real conservative, someone trying to maintain the Washington power structure.

The picture that emerges, at least the picture seen through my eyes, is that of a state and a country becoming more and more acutely the way they are. This is especially true of Democrats. They will vote for anything so long as it’s Democratic — which means that they will always be around, “resisting.” They are emphatically not resisters to government; they are resisters to Republican ideas of government, which they often falsely claim are anti-government. And they will be successful in maintaining the national status quo — if the Republicans, who are plainly in the cultural majority, don’t learn how to use the elections that they keep winning.




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Responsive Government

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Libertarians are of two minds about government.

To some, the state is a system of entrenched powers and interests unwilling to yield a particle of authority. Evidence: even the president can’t make any significant change in the power structure.

To others, the state is a vast assemblage of freeloaders and influence peddlers, perfectly willing to assimilate anyone or anything — even you or me — because it is confident in its ability to survive and grow, no matter what. Evidence: the 535 members of Congress, living proof that anyone can become part of the state.

The mayor tearfully apologized, claiming that he knew nothing of the important honor granted by his office.

The first theory pictures government as an endless web of armed DMVs, the second as an endless series of doors that can be accessed, eventually, by anybody. If even a Maxine Waters or a Mitch McConnell knocks on enough of those doors, eventually one of them will open. There are policemen in the state of California who get paid $550,000 a year. They found a door that opened.

The city of Cincinnati has provided fresh evidence for the second theory. It appears that if you ask the people in the mayor’s office, they will give you a day, a special day, just for you, or for anyone you know, no matter who you or either of you may be.

In 2015, a police officer named Sonny Kim was ambushed and killed on the streets of Cincinnati by a man named Trepierre Hummons, who was then killed. This year, Hummons’ father contacted the city asking that a day be set aside to honor his son. His intention, it is reported, was “to raise awareness of child abuse and mental illness” — two things that something called the Trepierre Foundation — a GoFundMe venue — exists to fight. In any event, the father’s intention was soon honored, and the city declared June 1 “Tre Day” in honor of the cop killer, whose “sacrifice,” the proclamation said, would “save the lives of children for generations to come.”

If you ask the people in the Cincinnati mayor’s office, they will give you a day, a special day, just for you, or for anyone you know.

This action finally leaked into the knowledge of someone outside the mayor’s office, and protests were lodged. “Tre Day” was ousted from the calendar, and the mayor tearfully apologized, claiming that he knew nothing of the important honor granted by his office, which allegedly did not recognize the distinctive name of the person it was honoring. So much for Tre Day. But the awful extent of government is indicated by the fact that it does millions of things like this without its actions even being noticed.

And let me tell you, Tiw, Woden, Thor, Freya, and Saturn are really pissed off.




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Hi. I’m Me. Where’s My Prize?

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I heard the bad news on the radio, but the press confirmed it: David Letterman has been selected to receive something called the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The award won’t be presented until October 22, but to satisfy a world breathlessly awaiting news about this coveted prize, the media were activated early. Way early. Well, bad news usually arrives with haste.

Here’s part of the announcement as it appeared in the Washington Post. Have towels ready, because this is a gush:

David Letterman, who reinvented late-night television with his irreverent and distinctly original comic sensibility, will receive the Kennedy Center’s 2017 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Letterman, 70, will be honored with the 20th-annual prize at a gala performance Oct. 22. The event will be televised later nationally. [I take that as a threat.] The Twain, considered the most prestigious honor in the world of comedy, will be awarded to Letterman five years after he was made a Kennedy Center Honoree.

“Reinvented”? “Irreverent?” “Sensibility?” You gotta be kiddin’. The guy isn’t even funny. Tell me one funny thing he’s ever said. See! You can’t.

And why drag Mark Twain into it? I don’t especially like Twain. Some of his stuff is good; lots of it is simply tiresome (and there is lots and lots of it). He’s seldom funny, and never so seldom as when he insists on telling you that this is what he’s being. But some of his aphorisms are memorable: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” And as I was taught — I believe by a professor with the unusual name of Blake Nevius — Twain actually did “reinvent” something. Before Twain, America’s professional humorists made money by laughing at people who were socially inferior to them. Twain made money by laughing with people whom he treated as social equals. As Nevius put it, “unlike the others, he wasn’t above his material.”

I don’t know when the mania for awards hit this country, but it’s a sign of cultural degeneration if ever there was one.

The really horrible thing, however, is the idea of somebody deciding to give an award for American humor at a “gala” at which people in tuxedos will schmooze and chuckle, presumably about how much better they are than people without tuxedos. There are far too many awards, anyway — and for humor? Gimme a break. Anybody with a sense of humor has already gotten the point of the penultimate scene of The Wizard of Oz, the awards-giving scene. The point is that awards are silly and unnecessary and unconsciously funny. If you have the qualities for which an award is given, you should probably laugh at the very idea of an award. If you don’t have those qualities — well, do you think that giving a Mark Twain Prize for American Humor will inspire some wannabe comic to become the next (ugh) David Letterman? It won’t happen. Such awards have no purpose — no legitimate purpose, anyhow.

I don’t know when the mania for awards hit this country, but it’s a sign of cultural degeneration if ever there was one. I’m picturing a mob of creepy-looking guys in monkey suits who, contrary to all evidence, think they’re cool, talking about how funny David is, and never having a clue that they are the funny ones. Well, they, and the president, and Congress — all of whom should be getting an award, if you’re giving out awards for laughs.




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Bound for Destruction on the Queen Mary

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During the last weekend in April I attended the second annual meeting of StokerCon.

Before you ask what StokerCon may be, I have to confess that I didn’t “attend” in the sense of “pay to attend” or “sit through any of the sessions.” I attended only as a person who suddenly discovered that StokerCon was going on all around him.

It began when my friend and I checked into our cabin on the liner Queen Mary — the Queen Mary that has, since 1967, been tied to a dock in Long Beach, California. It’s a fascinating vessel, and the idea that you can rent a room on it is marvelous in itself. But my subject is not the QM. It’s the mob of people in black t-shirts and black and red badges that we encountered in the ship’s lobbies and corridors, a crowd that was growing when we arrived on Thursday, swarmed on Friday, and did not depart until late Sunday afternoon.

Contemplating the convention’s logo, I looked at my friend with a wild surmise.

You don’t pay much to attend a StokerCon — you can get by with as little as $99 for (early) registration and, I think, $119 a night for your room — and you evidently get your money’s worth. There are lectures, receptions, product displays, and constant opportunities to meet and mingle with like-minded people. The whole ship was involved in the life of the group.

But what, you insist on asking, is StokerCon?

My friend and I had various ideas about that. Was there a railway union that still called itself the Stokers, just as the Teamsters still call themselves the Teamsters? Was this a convention designed not for people who prepare food but for people who stoke up on it? (A lot of the attendees were, indeed, very hefty.) Or were we meeting the constant players of some videogame we’d never heard of?

At last came the light. Contemplating the convention’s logo — a stylized, perhaps intentionally spooky, version of a house or castle — I looked at my friend with a wild surmise. The Con got its name from a man named Stoker — Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. The Con was about horror fiction.

I was right. According to itself (and I have no reason to disagree) “StokerCon is the annual convention of The Horror Writers Association (HWA), the premier organization of writers and publishers of horror and dark fantasy.”

In addition to sessions on such topics as “The Nuts and Bolts of Publishing Your Own Comic,” “Unraveling the Dark, Mysterious, Twisted World of Online Marketing,” and ”How to Write Awesome Dialog,” StokerCon offered parties, book sales even larger than those at libertarian conventions, and readings by a ton of authors (none of them known to my friend or me). All about the production of Horror. And all proof that Adam Smith was right about the division of labor.

One thing we did not learn was how many students have figured out how to make money from their education in fright.

The crowd was evenly split, male-female, with all ethnicities represented; and there were fair numbers of black women, though for some reason no black men (as far as we could see). Plenty of tattoos and strange millennial hair, but a good representation of retired people and folks who looked like librarians. In fact, there was a strong emphasis on libraries and librarians throughout. A few Stokers came dressed as stock horror characters — Death with a Scythe was my favorite — but I don’t think they kept it up during the entire event; even Death took a holiday. Looking for some common feature of the group, my friend said “strident voices,” and it was true that many, including librarians, had never mastered the indoor range of decibels. But that’s how we learned a lot, without paying any cash.

One thing we learned is that “universities” throughout the English-speaking world are cashing in on the evidently widespread desire to write horror fiction. If you want to do that, you will have no trouble finding classes, evening classes, summer classes, and online classes in the art of scaring people. One thing we did not learn was how many students have figured out how to make money from their education in fright. Clearly, few of the people who shipped on the Queen Mary that weekend were burdened with extra funds; I’d put the average annual income at $55K, and the median income from literary sources at a straight $55. And from one point of view, that’s a good thing, because the vast majority of genre fiction — detective, romance, western, horror, whatever — is and always has been junk. As a matter of fact, most fiction has always been junk. The more Stokers there are — the more writers there are — the more junk is going to be produced.

But here’s the thing. The feature of this group that was even more common than strident voices — the feature that was, indeed, universal — turned out to be happiness. Moods ranged from smiling contentment to shrieking hilarity, but there were no unhappy ghouls or goblins.

A good time was had by all, except people like my friend and me, who were always getting trapped in some public space with mobs of intrusively cheerful people. Yet when Sunday night rolled around, and we were sitting in the bar by ourselves, we sort of missed the Stokers. They didn’t leave us desolate, but they left us with a little less to talk about. A little less to have fun with. They were . . . something. They were not nothing. As much as I dislike the fact that everyone in America now describes himself as a member of some “community,” these people had actually created a community for themselves, and they were enjoying it, and they were doing no damage to other people (beyond the occasional shattered eardrum). And if that isn’t good for America, I don’t know what is.




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The EU's Death Sentence

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Americans tend to think French presidential elections are weird. Rather than picking the winner in one furious night of counting, the French first vote to eliminate all but the two leading candidates. Then, two weeks later, they pick the winner in a runoff election. And polls are forbidden during these two weeks.

Any voting system has flaws. If your political precepts favor truth, the French system has one indisputable virtue: the actual percentage of voters favoring the second-round candidates is exposed early on. Pro-EU Macron got 24% of the votes, while anti-EU candidate Le Pen got 22%. Yes, there are many other differences between Madame Le Pen and Monsieur Macron, but let's focus on EU and sovereignty here.

Don't you wish the US had a way to count people who voted for Trump only because they couldn't stand Hillary Clinton?

The French have to suffer two weeks of disgusting political contortions, while the nine(!) rejected candidates negotiate their support for one of the two contenders. The numbers guarantee that more than 75% of the voters will be disappointed, regardless of who wins the runoff. French political traditions also guarantee that the remaining 25% will quickly become 100% disenchanted with their winner, but that's another story.

These pitiful percentages result in a brittle legitimacy, which is actually beneficial for the cause of liberty. A French president has enormous powers, even compared to the ever-expanding US executive authority. The still-ongoing state of emergency, which was established by Socialist president Hollande after the November 2015 Islamist attack, further reinforces these powers. The constant reminder of a low approval is a welcome counterbalance to this immoderate power. Don't you wish the US had a way to count people who voted for Trump only because they couldn't stand the Clintonista?

In the past 20 years or so, French politics have revolved around a simple question: who rules the French? Until the 1990s, almost nobody doubted that the French political class firmly held the reins, maybe with the help of some lobbies. Since then, the European Union, and especially the non-elected European commissars, have been given ever-increasing powers over the internal affairs of the EU-member states, and EU regulations have sunk their hooks ever more deeply into the daily life of citizens. In parallel, radical Islam is growing in France, thanks in part to proselytism financed by Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Accelerating immigration from the African continent supplies a growing number of French residents who, even after acquiring French citizenship, favor their religious principles rather than the French constitution when they clash. The vaunted French secular legal system is a dead letter in thousands of Muslim-majority suburbs. Like the EU regulations, the Muslim rules weigh ever more heavily on French daily lives: schools have debated banning pork from cafeteria menus, swimming pools have held "women-only" hours to accommodate Muslim women, traffic is blocked on Fridays by believers praying in the street, etc.

One look at Macron's promises shows a slew of spendthrift measures and a refusal even to talk about the deep problems that are ruining the country.

This is why the French can legitimately wonder if they are still able to control their own destiny, or if they are bound to become subservient to the commissars and the imams. This is the center of Le Pen's arguments, and the key to her success: let the French keep their identity by stopping illegal immigration and pushing back against the EU.

While Le Pen is an overt Euroskeptic, her rival Macron is considered "safe" by pro-EU businessmen and politicians, and also by a large percentage of the middle class. He is already considered the next president. One look at Macron's promises, however, shows a slew of spendthrift measures and a refusal even to talk about the deep problems that are ruining the country, much less solve them. Many believe that this milquetoast, once elected, will simply squander public funds and private productivity in vain attempts to conciliate opposite interest groups. Now, the French national debt is comparable to the American debt (about one year of GNP). However, France cannot set its own monetary policy, since it abandoned the franc for the euro and therefore does not control its currency anymore. Continuing economic troubles ultimately mean a Greek-like situation in which France asks for a bailout from the other two richer EU countries — that is, Germany and England . . . oops, there goes England, never mind. Bloody Brexit.

This leaves Germany, which is already reeling from several bouts of rescuing the Greek finances. France has 11 times the GNP of Greece, and bailing it out would presumably be 11 times more expensive. There is no way Germany could afford it. The result would be the expulsion of France from the euro zone. France would then attempt to weather the storm by printing its own devalued fiat money, like it did several times in recent pre-euro history, to the great chagrin of investors holding French bonds.

After Brexit, would the EU survive the departure of another main financial backer? Probably not.

So the French now have a choice when it comes to the EU. They can either elect Le Pen and leave the EU. Or they can elect Macron and be kicked ignominiously out of the EU in a few years. The only question will be to decide whether to call this a Frexit or an adiEU. This being France, the current favorite euphemism for leaving the EU is a pun on a rude Anglo-Saxon synonym of "go away" that cannot be printed here. Such is the state of French culture.

After Brexit, would the EU survive the departure of the second of its three main financial backers? Probably not. The EU administration is a gigantic money pump transferring hundreds of billions of Euros (1 E = 1.08 US dollar or so) between richer and poorer countries, aided by an army of well-paid bureaucrats. Without payers, the system collapses.

In either case, this will mean 300 million people freed from the EU Moloch and from its commissars, who look more and more like crushing, soulless, anonymous bureaucrats the Supreme Soviet would envy. And that will be a good day for liberty.




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